Nov 30, 2012

[Movies] Dr. No (1962)

After thoroughly enjoying the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, I realized that I really haven't watched most of the various James Bond movies fully. Sure I've caught snippets of the various movies over the years, but I have yet to make a serious effort to watch all of them in sequence.

And thus today's movie review, which also represents the start of a full series of movie reviews to come, provided I survive watching all of them at all. I know that they're not all good and naturally some of the effects or even some of the plot lines will seem rather dated by today's movie standards. But that's no reason to enjoy the movies based on their own merits. And that's part of the adventure really.

Everyone will forever associate Sean Connery with this movie series, and thus it's certainly fulfilling to go through his body of work with respect to the James Bond character and related stories. He has become quite the poster boy for the franchise and thus my geek sensibilities feel somewhat ashamed that this is an area of pop culture where I remain weak. Oh bugger.

Thus we rectify things.

Synopsis: Dr. No is the first of the James Bond movies as based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. The movie was directed by Terence Young with a screenplay by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Hardwood and Berkely Mather.

Like all good spy stories, the movie starts with a murder. In this case, it's the murder of the British Intelligence Station Chief John Strangways (Timothy Moxon) by a group of assassins known only as the "Three Blind Mice". Thus we meet James Bond (Sean Connery), Agent 007, who is dispatched to Jamaica to investigate the death.

Upon arriving in Jamaica, a number of strange things happen. First a girl tries to take Bond's photograph. Two different men try to shadow Bond. And lastly, Bond is surprised to find that he is being picked up by a chauffeur at the airport. Thus the adventure begins as Bond manages to outfit the foes set on his trail and still make progress in terms of his investigation.

Thus the story unfolds - a sordid tale that manages to involve the CIA, some rather beautiful and yet mysterious women and of course the titular villain, the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

Now when compared to the more recent James Bond movies, this is a different kind of adventure indeed. We're gotten too used to all the high stakes actions of the modern era that we often forget that the movie does have its core roots in a more intellectual and dialog-heavy narrative as is this movie. But this doesn't make it bad in this regard - it just means there's a lot more narrative twists and turns to navigate as accented with quick bursts of rather clever action. Bond isn't some gun-toting Rambo type of a hero after all. He is a master spy, and thus he uses his wits as much as he brings out his gun.

It's interesting to note how many of the staples of the various James Bond movies started as early as this first movie. We have the rather iconic manner in which the title sequences are stylized, especially thanks to the work of Maurice Binder. We have the ever familiar theme music that has helped define the character along with the way the theme is twisted and manipulate throughout the movie's scoring to convey different degrees of tension and the like. It's all rather impressive when you really think about it.

Sean Connery is in top form here, although one can appreciate how he better grows into the role over time. This does not make his performance here bad per se, but there remains room for growth, as will be seen in future movies. If anything, he certainly helps firmly establish the image of Bond being quite the dashing and debonair international man of mystery who is handy with a gun as much as he's handy with the ladies. It is beyond amusing to see him deftly deal with the various "Bond girls" in this movie, even when it means seducing them one moment and having them arrested the next.

It's hard to fully appreciate what true narrative value Urseula Andress was supposed to represent as Honey Ryder. She's supposed to be the daughter of a marine biologist who now focuses on trying to sell shells that she picks off various islands. It's a weird way for anyone to make money and she ends up not exactly sounding like the sharpest tool in the shed with respect to this movie. Ah, but such is the life of a Bond girl, I suppose.

Dr. No may be a bit dated in some respects, but it's still a fantastic movie that still stands quite firmly on its feet. It's worth a viewing at least once in your life and I dare say it explains a lot regarding why the franchise has become as popular as it has over the years. Thus the movie gets 4 ways that Bond outwits various thugs and flunkies out of a possible 5.

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